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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

256                             THE GAY GENIUS

incompetence in the government. He wanted to reform the civil service
from the bottom. The imperial examinations were the basis of the selec-
tion of government personnel, but the system had become lax. He was,
on three or four occasions, made chief examiner and, while acting in
this capacity, did his best to select talent by his personal attention, some-
times saving a candidate's paper already rejected by the other judges.
Once, when the candidates were taking their examinations under
routine supervision and inspection by imperial guards, the insolence of
the guards shocked Su Tungpo. The sergeants shouted at the candi-
dates as if herding a company of raw privates. Some scholars were
caught cribbing and were thrown out of the hall with much fuss and
noise. There was a great commotion, and the sergeants then restored
order as if they had been quelling a riot. The haughty behaviour
of the sergeants was an insult to the scholars. Su Tungpo im-
mediately sent two letters to the Empress and had the two sergeants
dismissed.

What troubled the government at this time, as at all times in China's
history, might be called over-population of mandarins. There were too
many scholars and too few posts to give to everybody, a perennial
disease in China, where it is hardly thinkable that a good scholar should
not try to join the governing class. Unless this idea is changed today,
universal education alone can ruin the country. How are we going to^
provide posts for 450,0000,000 educated men? If the civil service system
had been strictly adhered to and selection had been based upon talent,
the number of successful candidates could have been limited and the
quality of men selected improved. But nepotism flourished, even in th^
times of Su Tungpo. There were many candidates from the provinces
who, upon the recommendation of their friends and relatives, were
given posts without submitting to the imperial examinations "at the
capital. For every examination which selected three or four hundred
talented scholars, there were eight or nine hundred people who were
exempt. The ministry of education could recommend as many as two
or three hundred exempted candidates, and there were others recom-
mended by the military officers and relatives of the imperial household.
At the spring sacrifice to Heaven, numbers of scholars were exempted
by "special grace" of the Emperor. The result was, as Su said, that "every
time a vacancy is available, there are six or seven people waiting and-
fjghting shamelessly for it. Many of these are men past their prime of
manhood and are merely seeking for employment. It is certain that
when they are given posts in the country, they will become a menace
to the people." He went on: "The people who receive this special
favour are now spread all over the country. Most of them are old and
without any ambition except to make money quick, and feather their
own nests. Eighty to ninety per cent of these people are corrupt and